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Gwynn Cassidy

Former Executive director at The Global SHE Initiative

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toddler holding a toothbrush

Toddler Toothbrushing Tips

Family & Caregiving

Did you know that once your baby's first tooth comes in it's time for you to start brushing his or her teeth? As parents, we know that developing good brushing habits at an early age helps children get a good start on a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums. But, let's be honest: That's a lot easier said than done.

I gave my son, Gideon, his first toothbrush when he was 9 months old (see photos) and he loved it! What did he do? Popped it into his mouth and started chewing away. At the time I thought this was an indicator of toothbrushing excellence to come … I was wrong. Gideon never put that poor Baby Einstein turtle toothbrush in his mouth again. Instead, he used it to brush the dog, sweep crumbs off his shirt and throw on the floor—over and over and over.

Into the trash went toothbrush #1 and out came toothbrushes #2, #3, #4 and so on. Since then, Gideon and I have had lots of interesting toothbrushing experiences, but I'm happy to report that, at 17 months, he became (and remains) an enthusiastic—and often effective—brusher. Success! I'm fairly certain we still have a few ups and downs to come, but here are some tips that worked wonders for us and hopefully will help you and yours.

If your toddler, like my lovey, is increasingly asserting his or her independence—and try to remember that this is a good thing—bedtime can be challenging. There have been nights I've had to employ more than one of these techniques to get Gideon to open up and brush.

  • Brush your teeth with your child. If ever Gideon is particularly reluctant, all I have to do is begin to brush my teeth, and he instantly wants in on the fun.
  • Select toothbrushes based on age/stage first, but keep an eye out for his or her favorite characters. Gideon is much more inclined to pick up a toothbrush with a recognizable character on it.
  • Position your little ones so that they're facing the mirror when they brush, and they’ll get a real kick out of seeing themselves brushing away.
  • Sing their favorite song in a super silly voice while they brush.
  • Set a timer and challenge both of you to brush, brush, brush until the timer beeps.
  • Have two toothbrushes at the ready so the question isn't, "Will you brush your teeth?" but rather, "Which brush will you use?"
  • Remember to show excitement and encouragement.

Learn from my mistake: Never leave your child alone with a toothbrush. Once I looked away for a moment to prep my brush. It was just long enough for Gideon to poke too far back, gag, and, voila, dinner reappeared.

Parenting is a tough gig, but getting through the day is a whole lot easier with a lot of patience and a sense of humor. And, if all else fails, simply remind yourself how much you love the little munchkin, and you'll enjoy even the most trying of moments.

Each February, the American Dental Association sponsors National Children's Dental Health Month to raise awareness about the importance of oral health.

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